Rating: 4.25 stars
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The Achillean is a sturdy vessel, but a terrible storm arrives and washes many overboard into the ocean. Several come ashore on the mysterious Obsidian Island that seems like a paradise… at first.
Emery Lapwing is a naturalist aboard The Achillean. He’s been a dear friend of the owner and captain, James Rawlings. Emery and James have had secret desires for one another since their first term back at university, more than ten years ago. But it’s improper—not to mention illegal—for men to have sexual relations with one another in England. Emery and James go overboard together, and Emery drags James to shore, then resuscitates him using mouth-to-mouth. It’s the first forbidden touch of their lips, and it would be exciting if their predicament wasn’t so dire. Finding safety and shelter is not easy, and the island’s flora and fauna is incredibly peculiar. There are enormous trees and lizards and butterflies that seem to have human faces. There is a crimson tree that invades ones’ dreams and feasts on flesh. It’s initially astounding to Emery’s curious mind, but terrifying to James.
Other castaways include the ship’s doctor, Deaton Braun, and cook, Lucien Fournier. These men were immediate confidantes of James and Emery, respectively, back from the university days. They joined The Achillean’s crew when James first sailed, and have strong ideas about the relations between men. Lucien is all for them, while Deaton hides his “unnatural” desires from the light—and counsels James to do the same. However, on the Obsidian Island, none of these men can imagine the pain of conviction for their “sex” crimes could match becoming eternal food for the Island’s sentient, blood-hungry plants.
This book is truly a supernatural horror story, with all four men seeking a way to the freedom and safety of The Achillean, only to be attacked, captured, buried alive, implanted with carnivorous seeds, and nearly devoured. They team up, get separated, and must face the bitterest truths of their reality: they could very well die, so it’s time to be honest. Lucien and Deaton have an attraction. James and Emery have an attraction. They do not spend time acting on these feelings, due to the Island’s ravaging, but confessing their feelings helps them focus on the most important needs—staying alive long enough to escape.
The circumstances are harrowing, and every time it seems they catch a break, it’s just a pause before the next tidal wave crashes down. This author really took the “make your characters suffer” storytelling edict to heart. I found it captivating, in the manner of watching a natural disaster unfold. The real talk that Emery and James share is powerful, and I was dying in the final scenes as Emery holds James’ life in his hands a second time. This is a long read, so you’ll need to devote some time to the enterprise. And while the characters’ experiences are unapologetically brutal, they are also thought provoking and philosophical. These men are grateful for their lives in the end, and lucky enough to plan new ways to navigate a world that is so hostile to their fledgling loves.